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I have always been the whitest Mexican in the room. My darker-skinned friends tell me that I have it easy because I can "blend in," in a way that they can't. You can't hide the color of your skin. It's a fact. That's what makes racism so hard to escape.
The thing is that when your skin is darker, people recognize you immediately as a minority and proceed with or without caution from there. If they're demeaning or aggressive you know there's malicious intent. Skin color has a way of making people put all of their cards on the table at first glance.
Since I sort of "blend in" I have always had the misfortune of being the Latina who people tell the off-color racist jokes and remarks to because they think, somehow, it's OK because I'm not a "real" Mexican, they don't think I'll take offense or they don't recognize me as Latina at all. In fact, I once had an online publication list me as one of the "Top 10 Bloggers You Didn't Know Were Latina," as if it were a compliment. I felt like it was a slap in the face. Was it a secret that I was Latina? It wasn't like I was trying to hide it.
On many occasions I've gotten, "Really? I never would have guessed it," comments, as if I just told them that I had been born with six toes. The undertone has always been "lucky you… no one has to know."
Apparently, since my skin is lighter, it's supposed to be thicker. I'm not supposed to react because if I do, it's an overreaction. It usually comes from the most unlikely sources and usually when I least expect it.
When your skin is darker, people recognize you immediately as a minority and proceed with or without caution from there. If they're demeaning or aggressive you know there's malicious intent. Skin color has a way of making people put all of their cards on the table at first glance. But when you're not dark-skinned, people aren't as careful with their casual racism.
For example, at my wedding, my brand new Caucasian father-in-law saw absolutely nothing wrong with wearing one of those party sombreros around the reception when the cumbias started to play. I was appalled.
My family was too kind to make a scene. On the biggest day of my life, I stood there feeling "icky." I remember being in my big beautiful white gown, married to a wonderful man in front of all of our family and friends and feeling like his dad made me the butt of a joke. I will never forget that. I will also never forget that I kept my mouth shut and choked down the hurt and embarrassment. Talk about blindsided. I felt betrayed and belittled. My husband didn't know what to do. He just squeezed my hand, as if to say, "it will be alright."
What could we do? Sure, I'd love to say I went off on him and told him off but it was my wedding and I didn't want to give him more ammunition to fuel his stereotype fire. So I swallowed my pride for the sake of peace. My husband was going to say something, but again, how would that not cause a scene? That was the last time we "let it go."
Years later, we were shopping for a home in a new city with our newborn baby girl. As the real estate agent drove us around this new town, we passed a neighborhood and my husband asked if we could take a look and the real estate agent's response was, "Oh no, you don't want to live there. That's where all the Mexicans live. " This was all said as she turned up her lip as if someone had just farted in the car.
I knew in that moment, in front of my baby girl, I wasn't going to stay silent but before I could say anything, my husband turned to the woman and said, "You know my wife is Mexican! You need to apologize." To which she almost swallowed her tongue in humiliation as she apologized profusely. Her first response? "No not like you." What does that even mean? Needless to say, we did not buy a house from this woman. This has happened to me my entire life and to be honest, I am sick of feeling "icky" because other people are stupid.
My husband has developed a knack in our 19 years together for letting everyone know that I'm Mexican before they ever have the chance to slip up and say something derogatory. I'm proud of him for wanting to protect our daughters and me from any needless uncomfortable or awkward situations — but I want to defend myself and I do now.
When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, being Latino was harder. There were less of us and for some reason people thought that made it OK to treat us as less than. I have never been less than anyone of any color, and I refused to not be proud of my Latino heritage and that's how I'm raising my girls.
My daughters have blonde hair, blue eyes and alabaster skin but know they are bicultural. I know they will one day be there when someone casually insults Latinos and I hope I've raised them strong enough to speak up. I'm very proud to be Mexican and I promise you, no one will be wearing a party sombrero at their weddings.